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A common phrase used in the military to reassure a battle buddy is “I’ve Got Your Six!” Its origin could have been fighter pilots in World War I, where they indicated direction by the face of a clock.  

Twelve o’clock was the direction of travel, and 6 o’clock was the pilot’s exposed and unprotected rear. Stating “I’ve got your six” was an assurance to the lead pilot to stay focused on his mission at 12 o’clock or directly in front of him while you protect their rear at 6 o’clock. Over time, this phrase made its way through the uniformed services and their ranks and is now a universal axiom conveying trust and protection from blindside harm.  

I’ve got your six is rooted in trust. I often coached my troops and later my executive leadership teams and employees on the importance of this concept. I told them you don’t have to like your brother or sister soldiers or co-workers; however, you must respect them and always have their six. Their race, creed, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and whether you align with any of these physical or cultural attributes doesn’t matter. If they are on our team, you must have their six, meaning you will protect them from any harm approaching their blindside, and they must trust you will. 

I recently read the New York Times best-seller, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” written by Patrick Lencioni. The first dysfunction is the absence of trust among teammates. Lencioni explains that trust is the confidence among team members that their peer’s intentions are good and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. Ideally, the team members can be vulnerable, uncover their weaknesses, and avoid being blindsided. In other words, each member intentionally covers the exposed six of their sister or brother teammates.  

Of course, failing to do this is one of the five dysfunctions that inhibit a team’s ability to fuse and direct focused energy to a common goal. Team members spend more time insulating themselves from the potential harm caused by a teammate than they do on the task at hand. They conceal their weaknesses and hesitate to ask for help or feedback. They won’t offer support to their struggling teammates and hold grudges against those they perceive as not having their six. This dilutes the exponentiality of the team and jeopardizes overcoming the remaining four dysfunctions: fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. 

However, if the CEO and leadership team embrace this philosophy of, “I’ve got your six,” then team members willingly admit mistakes and ask for help to shore up their weaknesses. They offer and seek constructive criticism and focus their energies on the task at hand. They build trust with their peers, and they eagerly contribute their time and energy to unify the team around achieving their assigned goals. 

Fostering trust in an organization is just one of many complex challenges facing the CEO. It starts with establishing a culture of belief in one another. Team members sharing their life journeys and establishing rapport within the company’s community personally rather than professionally is a starting point.  

We have been taught to follow the golden rule, treat others the way we want to be treated. But exceptional organizations take this tenet a step further and practice the platinum rule: Treat others how they want to be treated! By embracing the platinum rule, you understand the behavior and communication attributes practiced by your team members. Several assessments reveal how and why we behave in specific ways in our everyday and adaptive states. When taught, coached and mentored on the platinum rule, members naturally cover their teammate’s six! 

The aphorism “I’ve got your six” is a commitment to the supported one, and it’s an offer of trust and reliance. Trust that I’ll cover your blindside and reliance that I will follow through when the time comes.  

I’ve served in organizations where trust is absent, individualism flourishes, and the mission fails. Conversely, I’ve been in and led organizations where trust and respect are sacrosanct, the platinum rule dominates, and when a teammate states “I’ve got your six,” you can count on your brother or sister to come through. Be this type of organization, and your company will flourish! This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it!   

  Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected]